The New York Timaes has a fascinating article on how Target does datamining on its customers:
For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code â€” known internally as the Guest ID number â€” that keeps tabs on everything they buy. â€œIf you use a credit card or a coupon, or ï¬ll out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail weâ€™ve sent you or visit our Web site, weâ€™ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,â€ Pole said. â€œWe want to know everything we can.â€
Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether youâ€™ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if youâ€™ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. Thatâ€™s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Targetâ€™s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.
They are so good at this that they are able to predict due dates for pregnant women just based on buying patterns of lotions, vitamins, etc. and sends targeted coupons to those women. This sounds like a privacy nightmare, but it’s actually awesome. It would be great if Target sent me customized coupons for the products I buy regularly – or products that I want to buy, or am thinking about buying.
I want to see more of this kind of targeted enticement, not less, from the retailers I patronize. For example, if I had a coupon for a discount on a Kindle (which for me is a want, not a need) I might take the plunge. And the coupons would save me money in the long run.